This “Journal” section contains just some of the things I recorded during my many personal retreats over the past 16 years. (Were I to include all the journal entries over all those years it might melt down the Internet, so we’ll stick to highlights only)! Journal entries are listed oldest (1995) to newest (2011).
Naturally, everyone will have different approaches to and experiences on their retreats, but this section gives some sense of one person’s perspective.
Journal excerpt: Just BEFORE my first personal retreat
After leaving for home from a business trip, I attended confession at a church I “happened” to come across while driving. It turned out to be the most satisfying confession of my life. On the 4-hour drive back home, I prayed most of the time. About halfway home, I experienced an epiphany of some type. I felt as though I was on the verge of making a spiritual breakthrough. The feeling passed after a few minutes, but I continued to pray. I thought nothing had changed, but when I stopped at a supermarket to buy some crackers and cheese for dinner, I found myself looking with love upon everyone in the store. People who would normally irritate me, such as an old woman taking a long time to check out in front of me, or a boy who ran the shopping cart into my leg, seemed wonderful to me.
My basic prayer on that trip home was as follows:
+ God change me
+ Fill me with spirit, fill me with faith, fill me with grace
+ Help me to know what is important
+ Make me over as you will
+ Send to me the Holy Spirit to give me a spiritual breakthrough
(A few days later I took a long walk in the park and some additional thoughts came to me):
+ I believe in miracles
+ I am not afraid
+ Jesus said, seek and you will find, ask and it will be given to you, knock and the door shall be opened. I am seeking, I am asking.
+ Please don’t let me waste my breakthrough; let me build on it.
+ I need a major change. I am ready for it. I will accept it without conditions.
+ Come Holy Spirit!
+ Purge from me all anger, rage, bitterness, jealousy.
Journal excerpt: My very FIRST personal retreat
I did a day-long retreat at a state park. I awoke at 3:30 a.m. and arrived at the park at 6 a.m., before sun-up, and started walking shortly thereafter. I walked through all three campgrounds, praying as I walked. I watched the moon and stars fade away and the sun come up. It was very cold. Thoughts came to me which I recorded in a small notebook:
+ Walk in righteousness
+ Each day is a gift to be cherished
+ Do not judge others…forgive.
+ May prayer always be stronger than despair, fear or self pity.
+ I pray that our loving family may be together in spirit though separated by distance.
+ Your spirit moves through the earth.
+ The shallowness of worldly pleasures is obvious.
I then read the Psalms, and they came alive for me as never before. I experienced reading them with “raymeh”, which as our friend Sister Jean explained, is reading the scriptures in a special way, with joy and understanding and spirit. I read them in the car, and then later on two occasions during walks in the woods. On all occasions the words held great meaning for me as I read them aloud.
+ You put gladness in my heart.
+ The promises of the Lord are sure, like tried silver.
+ Cleanse me from my unknown faults.
I then walked for two hours in the woods, and felt very close to the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I walked and prayed and also stopped to read scripture and say the rosary. I asked that the Holy Spirit come upon me, and felt unafraid even though I was totally alone in the woods. I felt surrounded by goodness and believed a miracle was not impossible. I remember the spot, a hollow on the “kitchen” trail, and I will return to it. More thoughts came to me while I walked:
+ Do this again! Plan retreat days regularly!
+ My faith is growing, budding like a flower…a hundredfold, a thousand fold and more.
+ My wife is also my partner in faith.
+ Thank you for showing me this path!
+ Please put your words in my heart, please put your wishes in my heart and I will listen and obey.
+ Let your Spirit wash over me and cleanse me so that my faith may grow.
+ Let the holy spirit ignite my faith.
I saw a large number of butterflies, and thought they might signify the Holy Spirit. (Note: As it turned out, butterflies are regular visitors on many of my retreats).
After lunch, I walked again in the woods. I again was totally alone in the beautiful Fall forest. I found a place near some fallen trees, and spent a long time praying and asking the Holy Spirit to come to me and increase my faith. I found myself looking for a sign. I stopped at the fire tower and read some more psalms, and then went off the trail a distance and knelt for some time, praying, and asking for the Holy Spirit. It was a wonderful experience. These thoughts came to me:
+ O Lord, I called out to you, and you healed me.
+ Calm me, O my God, slow my pace.
+ May everyone appear wonderful to me.
+ We all have the gift of free will, and so we must each nurture and grow our own faith.
+ Yahweh, you are near, standing always at my side. I know what that means now!
+ Ignite my faith. I cannot be lukewarm any longer.
As I walked back down off the hill, I recited the following for a long time:
Come to Me
Ignite My Faith!
That ended my first “personal” retreat, but I vowed to do it again. And did!
Journal excerpt: My first “driving” retreat
Because my work caused me to travel a good deal, I began doing “driving” retreats, which are not a substitute for a traditional retreat, but are certainly effective. During driving retreats, I:
+ Used the drive time wisely in prayer, meditation, rosary, meditation, etc.
+ Felt as though Holy Spirit was in car with me, since that was my request. The Holy Spirit showed me a new way to a complete confession, detailed, going back as far as can remember, even childhood. Felt very fine after that exercise.
+ I remembered some more people and things which merited mention and confession. Also included anyone with whom I am presently having a problem or holding a grudge. At the conclusion, I would always say, “I pray I have not harmed (person) and pray that they are well, wherever they are, and may be touched by the Holy Spirit.
+ The words of the rosary came alive to me, much as had the words of the psalms at the state park and of the Bible at adoration. During the joyful mysteries, I could vividly visualize Mary with the Baby Jesus.
I would often pray, Holy Spirit, be my teacher. Holy Spirit, teach me to pray. Holy Spirit, teach me to praise.
Journal excerpt: Back to the woods!
+ Took a day-long retreat to the state park, where I had the entire 90,000 sq. acres to myself. A beautiful, but cold day. Walked a lot along the lake and in the woods. Meditated and prayed. Read the psalms, with great effect, especially Ps. 49.
+ One of my prayers has evolved to the following:
O My God, please change me
Please fill me with spirit and faith and grace
Make me over as you will
Help me to know what is important
Please cleanse my spirit so my faith may grow
and send to me the Holy Spirit to give me a spiritual breakthrough, so my faith may grow many times over
I am not afraid, and I believe in miracles
Jesus said ask and you shall receive,
Seek and ye shall find
Knock and the door shall be opened
Therefore, I pray for a breakthrough in my faith
Please show me the path you wish me to take, and I will do so without conditions
I would also recite this:
Holy Spirit, please come to me and ignite my faith
Holy Spirit, please touch me and increase my faith
Holy Spirit, I pray that we may meet
Holy Spirit, thank you for increasing my faith
Holy Spirit, teach me to pray. Holy Spirit, teach me to praise.
Journal excerpt: A trip to the mountains
Our first ski trip to Colorado since I had “changed” was fantastic, because I had the rare opportunity to set something right. A year before, a vendor had approached us to sell some items to help a local charity. I was really quite rude and demeaning to him, and felt badly about it afterward, even to the point of trying to get his name from the ski resort to send him a note of apology (but they didn’t know his name). Lo and behold, a year later he and I showed up in the very same parking lot at Breckenridge, and we had a very nice conversation, I apologized, and then I bought a few gifts and we exchanged God Bless You’s, hugged, and it was very nice to be able to right a wrong. Also on this trip, I was able to help a skier who was down with an injured leg. No medals are in order, but a year prior I very likely would not have stopped, since it would have cut into my ski time.
On that trip, I came across a remarkable quote from Cardinal Mercier:
I am going to reveal to you the secret of sanctity and happiness. Every day for five minutes control your imagination and close your eyes to the things of sense and your ears to all noises of the world, in order to enter into yourself. Then, in that sanctity of your baptized soul (which is the temple of the Holy Spirit), speak to that Divine Spirit, saying:
O, Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul…I adore you. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I should do…give me Your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that You desire of me and to accept all that You permit to happen to me. Let me only know Your will.
If you do this, your life will flow along happily, serenely and full of consolation, even in the midst of trials. Grace will be proportioned to the trial, giving you the strength to carry it and you will arrive at the gate of Paradise, laden with merit. This submission to the Holy Spirit is the secret of sanctity.
Journal excerpt: Retreat at a monastery
Attended a wonderful retreat at the Little Portion Hermitage in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. It was truly a wonderful experience. We had what was called “sacred silence” from the time we got up, through breakfast and Mass, and did not speak until it was time to begin work in the gardens or elsewhere.
I bought two books of prayer (Prayer of the Hours or the Offices) and P. and I did night prayers last night. This morning, we arose at 6 a.m. and observed sacred silence for half an hour and then had morning prayers. It was quite wonderful. We plan on having a “prayer room” or a “meditation room” in our house, where we can have morning prayers most mornings and also night prayers sometimes. What a blessing.
Journal excerpt: First anniversary
The one year anniversary of my “Damascus” experience (as they called it at a retreat) was wonderful. A lot of water has gone under the bridge in the past year…all of it good!
I didn’t remember it was the anniversary until I was praying on a drive to Boston, gorgeous day, and the prayers and rosary seemed special. It then occurred to me. Something came to me on the way up: “My heart overflows with love”. Again, a feeling of loving everyone. I recalled those who I had wronged or had supposedly wronged me, and asked forgiveness one by one.
When under stress, I like to pray: “Lord, please give me the peace that passes understanding”.
Journal excerpt: Notes at 30,000 feet
Writing this on a plane on the way to Phoenix. Looking back over these notes, I see that I have made progress, but also that I have stumbled too. My class and retreat proves to me again that I need to offer my talents to other things. Our morning and (sometimes) evening prayer sessions each day are really a blessing.
P. and I went to perpetual adoration and it was very wonderful. We had both, independently, were reminded of the words “I surrender it all to Jesus. I surrender it all to God’s will” and we both felt greatly relieved. I pray every day that my family all have “the peace that passes all understanding” as promised in the Bible.
Journal excerpt: Another retreat, another park
Conducted another personal retreat at the State Park. Below are some of the thoughts and activities of the day, which was a very good one:
+ “The Blessings of Faith (are mine)”
+ “How wondrous are your works, as I look on your beautiful creations”.
+ A personal retreat book or web site is A MUST!
+ All the things that seem so important don’t seem so now.
+ “Holy Spirit, help me to know what’s truth”.
+ “Lord, you have given me a most blessed life”.
+ Resentment may be my greatest sin.
+ Always need to pause for 30 seconds before responding to any situation!
+ Be at peace…BE CALM. “Find the peace that passes all understanding.
+ So many from my childhood are now gone. Life is fleeting, yet I have received more blessings than I can count.
+ You have made known to me the paths of life.
+ Acts 6:32 “We are witnesses of these things, as is the Holy Spirit, that God has given to those who obey him”.
+ Gift of Holy Spirit: John 11: 11-13.
Journal excerpt: Long car trips are blessings
+ Long car trip to New York, so did mini-retreats each way. On way over, it came to me “If I listen to God, what will God tell me?” In other words, a good idea to be quiet sometimes. Just as I repeated that a second time, I came over the rise of a hill, a huge cross came into view on a hillside, probably 40-60 feet high, and quite spectacular. Quite a coincidence too. I prayed a lot about finding new ways to serve the Lord. “My window of opportunity is slipping away” it seemed to me, until the time I will no longer be able to give help, but will perhaps need help. I need to stop thinking and talking and start doing!
+ Shorter trip today, but revisited concept of If I listen to God, what will He tell me?. This time, I wrote down a few possibilities of what He would say if I just walked into a room and there He was.
“Are you doing your best?”
“What have you done?”
“I know you.”
“Is it true?”
“I am here.”
Journal excerpt: On the Appalachian Trail
+ Did what turned out to be a wonderful retreat on the Appalachian Trail, It is a fantastic place to stop and read, etc. It is a rock bridge which goes over a babbling stream running out of a swampy area.
+ On the way to the retreat site, I visualized removing all the “clutter” from my mind, which would impede a good retreat. Work issues, financial matters, etc. One by one they were removed, and if they came back they were removed again. After a while, they stayed removed.
+ One of the highlights of the day was sitting on a natural rock bridge over a stream and reading the scriptures. There were butterflies all over the place and it was a sunny day, with a breeze, and certainly very “heaven-like”.
+ It occurred to me how important it is to do a moderate fast once a week… just do it!
+ Praying in the woods, on your knees, with your eyes closed, for a long time, is absolutely awesome!
+ All in all after a somewhat slow start, this turned out to be one of the best retreats ever.
Journal excerpt: Another anniversary
+ Another anniversary of spiritual breakthrough, and spent a wonderful day in Boston at a “success” seminar which had several inspirational moments. The main speaker, who is a quadriplegic, received 3 standing ovations for the courage he showed. The organizer of the seminar (which about 10,000 attended) did a brave thing by speaking about how much his faith means to him. In fact, he had a 10 or 15 minutes segment on the importance of having spirituality part of our daily business dealings. Another great anniversary day.
+ Question: Which is the most powerful: muscles, brains, or faith. If it comes to moving a mountain, it would take the muscles of millions. Fewer people with brains (to invent technology) could accomplish it, but it would still take thousands. But just one person with real faith can do the same thing.
+ At Adoration last time, I ran across a comment from a priest that God says “I forgive and I forget”.
+ Ran across these beautiful Bible verses:
“A friend cannot be known in prosperity. And an enemy cannot be hidden in adversity”. —Ecclesiastes. 12:8
“The morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy”.
Journal excerpt: A retreat on the beach
+ Enjoyed a personal retreat at state beach. It was the most gorgeous day imaginable, sunny, about 70, breezy, huge waves; hardly anybody around. They have nice walking trails along the sea and well into a huge stand of wild roses, and there were an untold number of butterflies all over the place (which has been the case with at least two other retreats, and always remind me of the Holy Spirit). One even let me pet its wings while it was resting on a flower!
A few thoughts taken that day:
+ Need to reorder my priorities, devote more time to what’s important and let work take care of itself.
+ Dinner at an expensive restaurant the night before the retreat was a blessing in disguise because it showed both P. and me how much rather we would have been at adoration or otherwise spending more time with the Lord.
+ Tho’t which occurred to me: “Lord, help me to see your path and then go down it joyously.
+ When I got back from my retreat I found a couple of very supportive messages about the retreat web site.
Journal excerpt: Another year goes by
+ Another anniversary of my spiritual breakthrough, and a wonderful day. Felt on top of the world when I came home and told P. about it! Another great anniversary!
+ Also, today is the day when only the “New John” will show his face. His insufferable twin has moved on! One of many wonderful birthday gifts.
Journal excerpt: A blessed retreat in a jail
+ Just finished my first REC (Residents Encounter Christ) weekend at the County Jail. 30 inmates completed the retreat, and it was a huge success and an overwhelming experience. Now we have “After REC” meetings Tuesdays at the jail. The people on the team (except me!) are very inspirational; and we certainly learned a great deal from the residents as well, most of whom have had very hard lives from childhood. The Holy Spirit was as alive and present in the prison gymnasium (transformed into a church for the retreat) as anywhere I have ever been; the chapel was especially wonderful.
+ Have now attended three “After-REC” meetings at the jail, and the Holy Spirit is definitely attending those as well. The residents give incredible testimony, and the team works very well together. In August, I will “run” my first meeting, which only involves selecting some readings) for the start of the meeting to get discussion going. A real blessing!
Journal excerpt: Another personal retreat
+ We were holding a REC retreat at the jail for the weekend, and I gave my first “talk” at a retreat. I mentioned that it was the anniversary of my spiritual breakthrough and told a bit about how it happened, and that tied in very nicely with the talk. The Holy Spirit was with me during the talk, and in fact the entire retreat was a wonderful inspiration for all of us.
Journal excerpt: My Cursillo retreat
+ My “Cursillo” just ended, a 3-1/2 day retreat in which we were busy from early in the morning until late at night with God’s business. It was truly a weekend that will last a lifetime. We had table discussions, mass, rosaries, a great confession, lots of singing, and plenty of sharing. Friday night was special because P. and the rest of the family had done beautiful posters and also sent along “palanca” letters which had me in tears. Saturday we celebrated mass with the team right at the altar, and it was truly an amazing experience, particularly when we sang an “amen” that about took the roof off. The last night we were surprised by P. and several of my friends from the church, and then all the cursillistas gave a talk on what the retreat meant to them. Amazing experience!
Journal excerpt: Looking back
+ It seems that each anniversary of my October 7 epiphany has been a blessing. On three personal retreats I have seen hundreds of butterflies…at Roaring River, on the Appalachian Trail, and at the seashore at Point Judith. I’d say the odds of that happening are very low, and believe they signify the Holy Spirit.
+ My ride to Boston and the REC talk were special because of the anniversary…even though I didn’t realize, in the case of Boston, that it was the anniversary until later.
+ It occurred to me while running along the beach this morning recently that “blessings have been showered upon me all my life, like a gentle, warm summer rain”. It is very wonderful to visualize this.
Journal excerpt: Moving on
Starting my new job tomorrow, and so am driving down today to get settled a bit. In doing so, I had some prayer time and the following came to me:
+ God is always at my side wherever, whenever…be it at home, at work, on a plane…no matter what the time of day or night. He is always my rock and my salvation, my refuge and my strength…the greatest blessing one can imagine. What do I have to fear with God at my side? Nothing!
+ Again…ponder this: God is my refuge and my strength; my rock and my salvation. He is always at my side.
+ God has rescued me from the miry pit (Psalms 40). May the light shine on all those who despair.
+ Talk to our children about attending Cursillos at Holy Fathers retreat center. It would really be a blessing for them!
Journal excerpt: A “commuter’s” retreat
+ While driving from MA to NY, did a “mini retreat” and had nice “conversation with God”. Years ago, I thought that I would get a “lightning jolt” of faith (spiritual breakthrough) and then immediately start doing good deeds and acts of faith. It now occurs to me that while that may be the case sometimes, I believe that it can also be (and perhaps has been in my case) that good deeds and acts of faith come first, and then faith “blossoms like the Spring flowers”.
+ Also, as far as regrets about leaving behind spiritual opportunities because of career change, I must remember that when one door closes, another opens, and we must not dwell in regret over the closed door but move forward to the great opportunities of the open one.
+ While commuting, I found that I enjoyed doing the “sandwich” prayer, but in between just mentioning the name of someone—nothing more (no detailed instructions or requests). I would just meditate and think about that person, confident that God knows what is best, and that I care about the person. It is comforting, in a way, to “turn over” to the Lord just the name and let him do the rest.
+ While commuting, the following came to be:
“I pray that I may serve you
As you would have me serve you
However that may be”.
+ The past several months have been difficult, because of settling into a new job, which has involved a great deal of travel. But last night, something came to me, harking back to my reading of “Dark Night of the Soul” by St. John of the Cross. What came to me is this: This dark night is a blessing in disguise because it will make me appreciate every second of service to others. Now, and for the past months, I have had a tremendous appetite to help others, but only minor ways to satisfy it. I really believe that when I am finally able to settle on one or two ways to serve the Lord with my talents, I will really appreciate the opportunity in ways I never did before.
Journal excerpt: Notes from another retreat
+ Several years ago, my Earth Angel discovered “horn pushing” and “head rolls” to help us solve any disputes quickly and in good spirits. Yesterday, I discovered something perhaps equally as good. It is called “name a blessing”. Whenever one of us is down and complaining, the other has the right to say “name a blessing” and the complainer has to comply. We have found it quickly puts things into perspective!
+ Beware of this trap: Since I can’t do a lot…….I don’t do a little!
+ We also read this wonderful concluding prayer: Lord, watch over us by day and night. In the midst of life’s countless changes, strengthen us with your never-changing love.
+ Received this in e-birthday card from my good friend Don: Numbers 6:24-26 ”The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
+ This thought just came to me: “I pray that I may find those who need what I do best.”
+ The Book of Ezekiel has a very interesting quote that talks about “showers of blessings”…similar the image I have used.
Journal excerpt: A great day!
The anniversary of my special day, and did a 5-hour retreat in the car, while driving on business. Here are a couple highlights of that wonderful event:
+ I learned by heart the “Come Holy Spirit” prayer today, something that will serve me well for the rest of my life
+ Minor miracle: I saw my butterflies! After looking all day for butterflies to cap off my retreat, I had seen not a single one. And now I was stopped dead in traffic on the freeway. I got out of the car to talk to a truck driver about the traffic and what should come flying by but a beautiful pair…and if I hadn’t been stopped in traffic I would never have seen them. So everything does have a blessing to it.
Journal excerpt: A “Half-Day” retreat
Because of conflicts, I was able to do only a half-day retreat, but it turned out to be a wonderful day in spite of the fact that it was raining cats and dogs and was very cold, precluding my usual walks. I started by driving a nearby town, where I spent a half-hour in the Adoration Chapel and then attended mass. While at the chapel I wrote down a number of things which came to me. After mass, I drove up to a state park and prayed as I drove and also had many good things come to me which I wrote down. I then returned to the adoration chapel and had yet another beautiful experience there, bombarded with wonderful thoughts. I returned home after that…a shortened retreat, but one very rich in inspiration. Here are the thoughts I jotted down throughout the retreat:
+ Spread faith and joy, not worries and gloom
+ Be a kite, not an anchor
+ Don’t use the few good things I do for “bragging rights”
+ Cut loose from 90% of time spent worrying about fleeting things of this world and set my eyes on the heavenly prize.
+ Be the best husband, father, grandfather there is
+ Use my time, talent,treasure only for what is right and good.
+ Help others to find JOL (Joy of Life).
+ “The peace that passes all understanding”.
+ The peace that passes all understanding.
+ Life is a struggle for a reason. Is it a test?
+ Be a kite, not an anchor.
+ Better to do a few substantial things than many “token” things.
+ Count my blessings, not my troubles.
+ “I feel like a giant weight has been lifted from me as I write these notes in the Adoration Chapel, waiting for mass”.
+ Be a “Good and Faithful Servant”.
+ Live my faith 24×7.
+ Make people feel better, not worse!
Journal excerpt: A really special day
My sweetheart reminded me that TODAY was my “special anniversary” (the 15th) of a spiritual breakthrough, and so I quickly packed up for my annual retreat.
At my stop I did the following:
+ I read the psalms.
+ Made resolutions, built on last year’s list.
+ Said the rosary.
I then took a long walk on the extensive walking trails located throughout the park, including right along the seashore. Thoughts that occurred to me:
+ Clear my mind of clutter and stay focused on what is important.
+ See “professional” (monastery in Orleans?) to rejuvenate my website and create a blog, etc.
+ Have “picnics” with PT (and grandkids).
+ Had walk, no set prayers, clears my mind for NEW.
+ Asked for Lord’s help in discerning if volunteer opportunity will be best for me or if it will be a distraction to keep me from doing better work. Don’t want to do for my ego, but also don’t want to miss good opportunity to serve.
+ I then went to a beautiful Adoration Chapel and (a) meditated (b) reviewed my notes from last year’s anniversary.
+ I then went up to a state park State and walked the trails, praying the John Michael Talbot version of the rosary while the sun set. I also downloaded a GREAT rosary guide to the blackberry.
+ On the ride home, I thought a lot about the past 15 years or so since my first “epiphany” in rural Missouri.
+ I need to listed more closely to PT and others and not assume I already have the answer. When I do that, I often find that her answer is a better one.
+ I need to be:
Spiritual (not materialistic)
Generous (not greedy)
Kind (not skeptical)
Encouraging (not negative)
Unselfish (not selfish)
Open minded (not closed)
Loving (not begrudging)
Caring (not bored or overwhelmed)
P. M. L. = Put Me Last
Think the BEST of OTHERS (not the worst)
Think the BEST of SITUATIONS (not the worst)
End of Journal Entries (for now!)